Farmers and farm businesses to face tougher sentencing penalties
Farm owners and agricultural businesses are to face tougher penalties from this month if they are found guilty of breaching health and safety regulations.
The new sentencing guidelines were introduced by The Sentencing Council in February this year and it means tougher penalties for any workplaces that are found guilty of breaking health and safety rules, including food hygiene offences and corporate manslaughter.
The new regulations come just weeks after the death of two farm workers in a slurry pit on farmland in Sunk Island in Holderness. Phil Cookson, from Roythornes Solicitors, which specialises in agricultural law, said: “Everyone in the industry wants to see farmers’ health and safety record take a turn for the better, for obvious reasons.”
Companies with a turnover of over £2m who are found guilty of breaking the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, can face a fine of up to £450,000; while large firms with a turnover of more than £50m, will find themselves facing a fine of up to £10m if they breach the health and safety regulations.
Under the new guidelines judges are advised to take the employer’s level of liability into account (low, medium, high, very high) and the level of risk and potential harm that could have resulted from the breach.
Mr Cookson added: “We can expect to see some small farm businesses hit really hard if they end up on the wrong end of an health and safety prosecution.”
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The boy was named locally as Zach Fox, who was 18 when he fell into the silo on a farm in Denholm. An investigation is now underway.
Tributes to Zach were paid on social media sites:
Liam Ramage wrote: “He didn’t have one bad bone in his body, a genuine nice guy”.
The National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) acknowledged that the farming industry needed to work together to improve the safety standards. He said “It is obviously a tragic accident and our thoughts are with the young man’s family.
“As an industry, we have a fairly poor track record on health and safety issues. In the last decade there have been just under 80 deaths on Scottish farms and there will have been many more injured. We work in an industry that’s hazardous. We are doing a lot of work to improve our health and safety record.
“Each death is enormously tragic. Farming communities are very close knit communities and any loss like this has huge impact and it’s in everyone’s interest to improve our record.”
Farming incidents are among the highest work-related injuries in the UK. A total of 27 people died on British farms in 2013 and this is the second silo death in less than a month in the UK. However, HSE believe that only 16% of incidents on farms are actually reported.
A spokesman for the police said: “Enquiries into the full circumstances surrounding this incident are ongoing and officers are currently liaising with the Health and Safety Executive.”
HSE added: “Inspectors are on site liaising with Police Scotland who is leading the investigation.”
HSE’s new head of agriculture Rick Brunt said: “A single mistake can lead to a death, but people should be learning to do the job so a single slip does not matter.
“There is a legal obligation to report accidents and we want to get a realistic picture so we know what we are dealing with.
“But there is a reluctance to report because people believe they will face legal action.
“Sometimes you have to stop and think and plan your work a bit better. Farmers are always in a rush and always cutting corners and they tend to work alone as well.”
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